The Courier for Hell


Meido no Hikyaku

A man who has stolen money out of love runs away with his lover, but they cannot escape their destiny.

A masterpiece by Chikamatsu Monzaemon depicting the ephemeral nature and heartbreak of young love. Chubei, the adopted son of a large money courier, steals money to buy his lover, a courtesan, out of her contract. They escape and go to Chubei’s father for help, forcing the latter to choose between his love for his child and his duty to society.


by Mizuochi Kiyoshi

Courier shop

The first act “Awaji Machi” is based on the Kameya Courier Service in Awaji Machi, Osaka. Jubei was adopted from Nara’s Yamato with a large dowry to become the successor of the shop. However, he has fallen deeply in love. From the dialogue among the shop’s customers, we learn that the shop is a well established delivery house handling not only letters and packages but currency exchange.


Extravagant use of too many tissues to blow one’s nose

A messenger arrives from Tanbaya Hachiemon asking whether his money transfer has arrived from Edo. The head clerk talks to him vaguely and sends him away. Myokan, the widow of the late shop owner, becomes suspicious of Chubei, the adopted son, who appears on edge. He uses excessive amounts of tissue to blow his nose, displaying his extravagance.


Chubei feels out of place in own home

Chubei is deeply in love with Umegawa, a courtesan in the Shinmachi pleasure district. He is worried that his stepmother may have heard about their affair and tries to find out from the maid.


Loyalty of Hachiemon

Chubei sees Hachiemon coming and tries to get away. Hachiemon stops him and demands that he turn over the 50 ryo due from Edo. Hachiemon is a big customer as well as Chubei’s friend. Chubei confesses to him that he used the money to buy out Umegawa’s contract and tearfully asks Hachiemon to wait a bit for repayment, telling him to think of it as saving a dog’s life. Hachiemon says it’s a difficult request but agrees loyally to wait.


“I hereby declare that I did not receive the 50 ryo”

When the widow sees Hachiemon, she invites him in and presses Chubei to deliver the money. Chubei wraps a hair dye case, which is similar in size to a bundle of money, and hands that to Hachiemon. Aware that Myokan cannot read, Hachiemon writes a note saying, “I hereby declare that I did not receive the 50 ryo”. He leaves the shop.


Six roads of hell

A delivery from Edo arrives, and the shop becomes busy again. Chubei leaves with 300 ryo to be delivered to a customer, but heads instead to Shinmachi. He debates whether to stop or go ahead, but eventually goes to Shinmachi. The narrator likens the courier’s three annual round trips between Edo and Osaka (i.e., six each way) to the traditional six roads to hell, signaling that he has gone beyond the point of no return.

Kameya Chubei(Sakata Tojuro) March 2014 Kabukiza Theatre


Umegawa’s melancholy

The second act, “Breaking the Seal”, takes place in the Echigoya pleasure house (renamed Izutsuya in Kabuki). Echigoya is run by a female proprietor, so courtesans go there to kill time. In the early evening, the courtesans are playing a game. Umegawa, who works exclusively for another house, joins the game but is rather down. A client from the countryside is about to buy her out, and her lover Chubei, who had put down a deposit, has not returned since and is past the deadline. She wants to be with Chubei and receive the blessing from her colleagues.


Reference to Yugiri

An assistant, hoping to cheer Umegawa, sings a passage from the popular puppet drama Yugiri Bunsho. Chikamatsu quotes himself here, talking about the fleetingness of a life that can be changed so easily by money: “Lies and truth are all the same. There is no truth or falsehood in love’s destiny. The only truth is the ties among a couple.”


Chubei’s short temper has unfavorable outcome

Hachiemon turns up. Umegawa hides, but Hachiemon tells the other courtesans that Chubei has used the money that he loaned him. He says that Chubei is not of a rank that can buy Umegawa out and that his attempts will make him a criminal. He says that if Umegawa is worried about Chubei, she should not let him near her. The short-tempered Chubei overhears this conversation and, angered at the humiliation, rushes into the house.

Tanbaya Hachiemon(Nakamura Kanjaku) March 2014 Kabukiza Theatre


Breaking the seal

Chubei ignores Hachiemon’s efforts to stop him and, breaking the seal of the 300 ryo that he was to deliver to the samurai household, throws 50 ryo at Hachiemon. Umegawa rushes from upstairs and tries to restrain Chubei. She convinces him that after her two-year contract with the pleasure house is up, she will look after Chubei even if she has to prostitute herself along Osaka Bay. Even then, Chubei uses the remaining money to buy out Umegawa. He has essentially stolen the money, the ultimate sin for a delivery house. Hachiemon, overwhelmed by events, gives up and leaves the shop.

[from left]Kameya Chubei(Sakata Tojuro)、Tanbaya Hachiemon(Bando Mitsugoro) October 2007 Kabukiza Theatre


Jumping the barrier to hell

Chubei bursts into tears when he is alone with Umegawa and confesses that he has used a client’s money, meaning he will be arrested. He tells her that he has jumped the barrier to hell. Umegawa says that it is her wish to die together with her lover. They leave everything behind and head for Chubei’s hometown of Yamato.


Joint ride in the palanquin

The final act depicts the escape of the couple in a michiyuki scene. They were worried about being seen and ride together in a palanquin. They head for Ninokuchi Village in the Yamato district of Nara Prefecture. Within a few weeks, they use their entire savings.


Ninokuchi Village

The pair arrive at Ninokuchi Village. They can’t go to his family’s house, fearing that the police may already be there, so they go to Chubei’s friend Chuzaburo. Unfortunately he is away. His new wife, not recognizing Chubei, welcomes them. She says the village is full of talk about Chubei’s crime. She goes out to look for her husband. Chubei, hiding behind the window screen, spots his father Magoemon walking through with other residents.

[from left]Umegawa(Nakamura Fukusuke)、Kameya Chubei(Sakata Tojuro) September 2011 Shinbashi Enbujo Theatre


Umegawa’s kindness

Magoemon slips in the snow and falls. Umegawa rushes out and guides him inside the house. Magoemon thanks this unknown woman for her kindness. From her behavior and conversation, however, he comes to realize that she is his son’s lover. He presumes that his son must be hiding somewhere close, but pretends not to notice. Speaking so that Chubei can hear, he tells Umegawa tearfully of the conflict between his duty to society and his love for his son.

[from left]Magoemon(Kataoka Gato)、Umegawa(Nakamura Tokizo) October 2007 Kabukiza Theatre


Separation of father and son

Magoemon, obliged by social responsibility, leaves without seeing Chubei. Chusaburo returns to inform them that the police are on the way, urging them to leave by the back door. Magoemon returns and is overjoyed by their escape, but is soon confronted with the news that they have been captured.

[from left]Magoemon(Nakamura Karoku)、Kameya Chubei(Sakata Tojuro)、Umegawa(Nakamura Fukusuke) September 2011 Shinbashi Enbujo Theatre